GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On a Wednesday afternoon, the northeast side of Grand Rapids looked quite gloomy. Clouds of gray hung over Ronald McDonald House Charities of West Michigan and the air temperature indicated that perhaps our region of the country isn't quite ready to dive into spring yet.
But once you step into Ronald McDonald House, the atmosphere instantly changes. The lights are bright. There's a buzz in the air. You can tell that staff members are smiling, even though they're still wearing masks. The energy levels in the building are higher than they've been in quite some time.
"For the last two years, COVID restrictions have forced us to not have a full house. So even though there's need out there, we could only have half our families in rooms here," said executive director Ellen Carpenter.
COVID-19 restrictions didn't just mean fewer families could call Ronald McDonald House their home away from home while their children are in the hospital. It has also meant that fewer volunteers have been able to work at the house, and that staff members have taken on a heavier workload.
But all of that has changed. Restrictions have been lifted and the organization is ready to welcome back in-house volunteers. And there is a "huge need" for people to step up.
"We have a volunteer role for just about every person," said volunteer services manager Kortney Hapner.
"We have our meals and treats, which are made every, single day fresh for our families. We have other roles with flexible scheduling and a variety of talents - things like laundry, fresh linens for our families, rides to the hospital so they can see their kids, and general ground maintenance. We have five acres here, which take a lot of upkeep."
Leaders from Ronald McDonald House Charities say their organization offers a face-to-face experience between volunteers and families that not a lot of other organizations offer.
"We kind of take the ride with them - the ups and downs with their children getting better, and sometimes having setbacks. So really just feeling that support when their families are far away, we play that role," Carpenter said
"It really helps us know that what we do every day makes a difference because many families wouldn't even know where to stay if they had to be out of town for two months. It's too expensive. And all of the things that we do here are free."
People interest in volunteering should check out the organization's newly redesigned website.
"There's a page called 'Get Involved' with a ton of information about our meals and treats program, as well as the regularly scheduled individual family services roles, and there's a contact form on there where they can fill it out and get right to me," Hapner said.
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